Last night’s news that the Cubs got Craig Kimbrel has big implications for the 2019 NL Central race. The Cubs and Brewers seem poised to fight it out all year long and the Cubs — whose bullpen has been beset with injuries — are making a significant improvement in landing one of the most dominant closers of the past decade. The baseball calculus is pretty clear here. The Cubs got better.
The Cubs got better pretty dang cheaply, too. They’ll pay Kimbrel $10 million in 2019, and $16 million over each of the next two seasons. Even the sometimes shaky Kimbrel we saw late last season is worth that kind of risk. It’s simply not major money for a pitcher of his caliber in this day and age. Heck, he’s making less than new teammate Tyler Chatwood is in 2019 and, over the course of their respective three-year contracts, Kimbrel will only make $5 million more in total. Even if you didn’t pro-rate his 2019 salary and paid him $16 million, he’d be only the seventh-highest paid reliever in the game.
There are a lot of reasons for that, of course. Kimbrel was reported to be asking for a monster contract last offseason and, while all such reports must be taken with a grain of salt — teams love to portray free agents as unreasonable to justify a lack of interest to fans and free agents love to portray teams as cheap to put pressure on teams to sign them — that likely scared some suitors away. He had draft pick compensation tied to him until this past Monday, too.
Still, this deal is pretty team-friendly, even with those considerations attached. While the reported $100 million Kimbrel was allegedly asking for last winter seemed out of line, most experts were projecting deals north of $60 million for Kimbrel. Most experts also figured on a four or five year deal for the guy. In no event did anyone think he’d get less than what the Rockies gave Wade Davis before the 2018 season. Davis, while excellent, did not have the track record Kimbrel had and got a three-year, $52M deal. And that was despite the fact that he, unlike Kimbrel as of this week, had a qualifying offer attached to him. You’d think Davis’ deal would’ve been the floor, but nope.
I have to think that if Kimbrel is anywhere close to his usual self for the rest of the year that he couldn’t gone back out on the market this winter and done better between 2020-21 than he’ll do under this deal. Still, it’s hard to blame him for not wanting to endure even the chance of another seven months in limbo like he’s just finishing, so Kimbrel trading some dollars for some security in terms of years is hard to knock.